We continue in our two week series through Ephesians 1–3, with guest writer Dr. David Starling.
For this reason… | Eph. 2:15, 3:1, 14
Today we focus on just one phrase, “For this reason…”, repeated by Paul three times in the first three chapters of the letter, as a kind of introduction to the prayers that he prays for the Ephesians.
Before you turn to Ephesians to explore what Paul says about his reasons for prayer, it would be worth taking a moment or two to ponder your own: if you had to give a reason for what you pray, and for why you pray for the things that you pray for, what would it be?
There’s a number of ways that you could answer that question, isn’t there. Some of them are good reasons, and if we’re honest, some of them are not so good ones. Sometimes we pray because we feel we ought to pray, out of a sense of duty. Sometimes we pray out of a sense of helplessness or desparation, because there’s nothing else we can think of. Sometimes we pray out of habit. Sometimes we pray out of a desire to impress others, so that people will think we’ve got it together as Christians. Maybe your prayer life involves a combination of several of those things as some of the reasons why you pray.
In verse 14, before Paul tells the Ephesians what it is that he prays for for them, he begins by telling them reason why he prays. He starts off, “For this reason…”, before he tells them how he prays. The implication is that the reason he prays is something that he’s said in the verses just before this. On top of that, there’s the fact that this little phrase, “for this reason” is repeating what he’s said back in verse 1, so perhaps the same reason he’s referring to is somewhere in the last few verses of chapter two. (Perhaps, too, it might be an echo of some the things in 1:3–14 that stand behind the first “for this reason” in 1:15.)
If that’s the case—if the reason why Paul says that he prays is contained in those two places—then I suspect it’s not all that hard to work out what he’s referring to. Because in verse 18 of chapter 2, and in verse 12 of chapter 3, he reiterates the same point—the point that I think is the foundational reason why Paul prays.
What does he say? Chapter 2 verse 18: “Through him – that is, through Jesus – we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” And chapter 3 verse 12: “In him, and through faith in him, we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Why does Paul pray? He prays not because he has to but because he’s allowed to. He prays not out of a sense of duty but out of a sense of privilege. Do you see the difference?
You might want to imagine that you and I both somehow bumped into each other at the royal garden party in Windsor Castle. And you look at me, and you’re a little shocked to see me in such a fancy gathering, and you say to me: “What are you doing here?”. It’d be a little odd if I answered the question by saying: “Well, I was free this afternoon, and I just thought I should come along to support the cause.” It’s an answer that somehow misses the point of your question. You weren’t really asking, “Why did you bother to turn up?” You were asking, “How did you get to be invited?”
It’s similar with prayer. It’s so easy for us to lapse into talking and thinking about prayer as if it were a kind of burdensome good work that we ought to do, and the only real barriers in the way are things like busyness and lack of self-discipline and boredom and tiredness. And there’s good reason why we think about it that way, because praying can be really hard work.
But that’s not the full story. The better we know God, and the better we know ourselves, the more we realise in our hearts that prayer is not a burdensome duty but an astonishing privilege. The real barrier between us and God, the real obstacle to prayer, is not just our unwillingness but our unworthiness. And that’s the obstacle that God has taken away through Jesus.
That’s why Paul marvels at the access that we have through the blood of Jesus—the fact that we can come into God’s presence with “freedom and confidence”, that we can come before God and not be destroyed as sinners but welcomed as children.
To think (and pray) about
Today’s Bible reading was a particularly short one—hopefully that will give you a little extra time to give over to prayer, enjoying the fact that you are invited to pray, thanking God for the privilege, and exercising it by bringing your confessions and praises and desires to him.